From grizzly bear country to totem poles in Sitka National Historical Park, exploring Sitka is all about big landscapes, traditional culture, and Alaska wildlife. You can experience the highlights with one day in the compact island community, soaking up Sitka’s quirky culture along the way. Use these tips to plan the perfect day.
Pay your respects to Sitka’s original residents at Fortress of the Bear, a nonprofit grizzly bear conservation organization that offers a home to orphaned and rescued bears. It's possible to get within 25 feet (7.6 meters) of the resident bears, but Fortress of the Bear is not a zoo. Instead, you see naturalists interacting with the bears, and learn about the challenges they face in the wild—Tongass National Forest comes right to the edge of the .75-acre (.3-hectare) preserve. Covered viewing areas make this a favorite stop in any weather, and the bear sanctuary is a featured stop on many shore excursions and Sitka tours.
Northwest coast totem poles line the walking trails at Alaska’s oldest national park, which commemorates the 1804 Battle of Sitka. Tours and excursions may feature guided walks of the park, which is a great chance to spot salmon and other wildlife, so take advantage of your time with the guide to learn about Sitka’s fascinating nature. Other sites inside Sitka National Historic Park include the battlefield and the Tlingit Fort, which withstood a 6-day siege by Russian and Aleut forces. Some tours may offer these as included stops on park visits.
Humpback whales flock to Sitka between July and December, and you can watch for their dark-blue silhouettes while cruising the coast here. Options for whale-watching in Sitka range from small-boat excursions to sailing trips aboard vessels with enclosed cabins and spacious decks. Most trips feature onboard crew that help spot humpbacks, as well as orca whales, minke whales, and grey whales.